Less a vessel for fishing than river running on either long, multi-night float trips or day trips through Class IV+ water, whitewater rafts are the vessel of choice for the river recreationist. These rafts are big, heavy, expensive, nearly indestructible and can carry massive amounts of gear. This page is a basic guide to whitewater rafts and will help visitors to Big Sky Fishing determine whether or not they need this type of raft or a smaller, less expensive inflatable raft.
Do You Need a Whitewater Raft?
That's the question, isn't it? To help you answer this question, I've put together this quick and dirty guide.
- How Many People? This is probably the most important question. If you're planning on going out alone or with just one more person, virtually all styles of whitewater rafts (at least those shown on this site), are way, way overkill. For 1-2 people, these rafts are simply too big, heavy, and bulky. The only exception is if you simply need to haul a massive amount of gear for some reason - and by massive, I'm talking in excess of 800 or so pounds. For 1-2 people, I advise going with either an Inflatable Kayak (for heavy whitewater in all weather) or a more sedate and affordable Inflatable Raft (which will handle Class III whitewater just fine).
- Fishing or Floating? If you use your boat primarily for fishing, whitewater rafts are a lousy choice UNLESS you invest in a specialized fishing frame for the raft (see raft frames for examples) - especially ones that are of this size. For pure fishing, go with a drift boat if you have the trailer and can afford it (drift boats are expensive!), a pontoon boat if you'll be fishing by yourself and an easy way to haul it, or an inflatable kayak for 1-2 people who want an all-around boat that is "decent" for fishing and "excellent" for river floating adventures. That said, if you'll use your boat primarily for running wild, pounding rivers - AND you'll have more than 2 people - then a whitewater raft just might be for you when combined with a dedicated raft frame built for fishing.
- How Much Gear? Nothing can compare to the gear hauling of a whitewater raft. However, don't be so quick to rule out other boats, either. For more sedate rivers, some of the less expensive Sea Eagle rafts have a total people/gear capacity of 1000 pounds. Additionally, most inflatable kayaks can easily carry two people plus 200 or so pounds of gear (more than enough for a multi-night float trip). Perhaps the way to look at it is like this: Whitewater rafts are semi-trucks while inflatable kayaks are pickup-trucks.
So You Want a Whitewater Raft
Despite what you might be thinking, I didn't put this guide up to dissuade anyone from buying a whitewater raft. These whitewater rafts are truly awesome boats for river running. Instead, I put this guide up to prevent people from ordering a $2000 boat, only to be shocked in an unpleasant way when the package arrives. Like most purchases in life, it is key to match up your needs to the boats design. If the boat you buy doesn't match your needs, you can have the world's greatest kayak/raft and still despise it! Thus, the moral of the story is this - be SURE of your needs before buying anything.
Now, with that out of the way...if you've determined a whitewater raft is for you, then the rest of buying a whitewater raft is fairly straight forward. Basically, what you'll need to do is to figure out some of the following:
- Capacity : All these rafts are large, but some are larger than others. Try to avoid getting a raft that is "too big" for all but rare uses - as large rafts paddled by too few people have a nasty habit of handling like upset donkeys. Remember...in terms of maneuverability and ease of paddling...the smaller the raft, the better.
- Don't Forget All the Little Stuff : Whitewater rafts require a pretty good bundle of accessories to be bought - unless you plan on leaving the raft inside your garage. You'll need paddles, dry bags, rope and tie downs, raft cart, bag, pumps, perhaps a more comfortable seat(s), an anchor, and the list is seemingly endless. View the Raft Accessory page to see all the goodies you can - and probably want - to buy for these boats.
- Color : Whiwater rafts can come in a crazy quilt of colors. I personally prefer bright colors, as other floaters can see the boat better. But really, the color is mainly a personal preference. Just remember, you can't paint a raft if you later discover you don't like the color!
- Raft Frame : For pure whitewater and recreational river floating, a raft frame isn't really needed although they can still be helpful depending on your own needs. However, for fishing, a "fishing friendly" raft frame is essential. These fishing friendly raft frames have specialty seats that make casting much easier and effective, as well as making the boat more maneuverable and paddling easier. Browse some common raft frames.
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